****** http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">
****** bgcolor="#FFFFFF" text="#000000">
the Roundel Feature Article
Schnitzer Drives Alpina...
(No...not that Schnitzer)
Text and Photos by Klaus Schnitzer
What if M, that exclusive, expensive
and rather fast letter on the
rump of your BMW is not
enough? Too common, too
cheap, too slow? There is the
tricky road of tuner modifications, often
very good, but at times the beginning of a
big bang. So if you are after the ne plus
ultra of BMWs you call Alpina in Buchioc
-the picturesque country of Bavaria (officially
part of Germany, though the Bavarians
think the reverse).
It is very important
that you never, never call Alpina a tuner.
Alpina is a legitimate manufacturer of cars
that happens to start out with some excellent
BMW parts. Say "tuner" in Buchloe
and you will be escorted to the Bavarian
border and declared persona non grata.
Unfortunately, Alpina has had almost
no presence in the U.S. in recent memory
but has a product recognition factor that
other manufacturers would kill for. Please, Alpina, come back! All is forgiven, whatever it was.
I am getting misty-eyed, for my 30th
anniversary of driving my first BMW, a
1967 Alpina l6OOti, is this summer. The
virus is still with me. I need to take a break
to prepare a suitable toast. It's been 30 very
good BMW years.
Burkard Bovensiepen, the boss at Alpina, started out in the family typewriter
manufacturing business in the town of
Buchloe 30 minutes west of Munich. Just
think, if he stayed in that business, he would
now be building the world's fastest word
processor. He applied his magic to the
BMW 1500 sedan in 1963, raising its horsepower
from 80 to 92 with the addition of
twin Weber carburetors on short intake
pipes. The quality of workmanship
impressed even the factory and a symbiotic
relationship was forged. The Alpina logo
features those same inlet pipes.
In 1965 the typewriter business was sold
and the serious undertaking of tuning was
started. It was OK to call Bovensiepen a tuner
then; it was not until 1983 that Alpina became
an independent manufacturer of cars.
The tuning business quickly moved
from bolt-on parts to more serious modifications
like custom forged pistons, balanced
crank shafts (the other half of the logo), polished
con rods etc. The 1600 and 2002
received the Alpina treatment: rear disk
brakes, special gear boxes, butterfly fuel
injection--expensive and very fast components.
Paul Fere', the well known journalist and former
Formula 1 racer, drove a
165 hp 2002 Alpina at the Vallelunga race
circuit and lapped faster than a Lamborghini
Miura, and five seconds faster than a
Porsche 911S. My friend Gunther Schroder
(who lent me his `67 1600 Alpina) was a
terror at Lime Rock time trials in the late
` 60s, easily defeating mega-hp machinery.
A true giant-killer, those pesky Alpinas.
Back in Europe Alpina went racing, winning
the European Touring Car Championship in 1970
when the Alpina CSLs were
the class act (see Roundel, Feb.'97, Careylida's CSL Alpina).
Alpina initiated and
managed the development of the CSL coupe
for the factory. The road-going versions
were capable of outperforming the Aston
Martin DBS V8 and Ferrari 365 GTs. Those
were the days when drivers like Jacky Ickx,
James Hunt, Hans Stuck, Derek Bell, Niki Lauda, etc., could be found behind the
wheels of Bovensiepen's creations.
The first engine transplant for Alpina
occurred in 1978 when the 3 Series 4 cylinder
was replaced by a 200 hp small six. I
remember very fast rides on the narrow country
lanes around Buchloe in this model.
Alpina understood the old American hot rod
axiom, "nothing beats cubic inches." These
transplants were not backyard specials but
carefully engineered high performance
BMWs that often exceeded factory standards.
Nothing like cubic inches and cubic money.
The relationship with BMW prospered
and Alpina often took on the role of the factory
skunk works. You may wonder if this
does not pose a conflict with BMW's own
hot rod division of M. From what I can discern
there is great mutual respect, and
Alpina cars are different from Ms, plus M
does not have a world class wine cellar.
Fast forward to the recent past. Bavaria.
I am driving Bovensiepen's personal 530
turbo which has sufficient Newton meters
to move tall buildings. Even on the overrun
the car still accelerates with vigor.
Almost too much for these quaint country
lanes. This is an Autobahn tool.
Fast forward to the present. Same roads,
new car-an Alpina B8 4.6. This is a 3
Series-based four door sedan into which
Alpina has transplanted a specially built
4.6 liter V8 (333 hp - 470 Nm of torque),
attached a 6 speed gear box and a host of
other modifications. How does this compare
to BMW's impressive 321 hp M3? The
B8 4.6 is faster, quieter, more refined, less
frantic, more grown up and more expensive.
Surprisingly, the car does not feel nose
heavy. It is an understated (leave off the
deco set and emblems) vehicle that has
absolute power in a quiet, relaxed manner.
It is an M3.
A B8 4.6 starts life at BMW's Individual
line (M3/M5 Regensburg plant). 40 different
modifications (brackets etc.) are
done specifically for Alpina. The car arrives
at Buchloe minus engine, gear box, differential,
and with only rudimentary suspension
components so it can be moved. With
it comes a specially cast 4.6 liter block and
raw un-machined heads. CNC machines and
hand porting finish the heads. The expensive part
is the specially cast oil sump. It is
custom made to fit over the front cross member. ARI, the camera maker, builds the
exquisite oil pump that fits into this confined
space. The Getrag 6 speed
transmission which is similar to the one in
the 540i is installed along with an M3 differential.
The differential has a larger oil
capacity and a finned end cover to aid cooling.
Those are the major parts.
NOW FOR THE DETAILS:
Custom front brakes (326 x 26 mm) by
Lucas. (The erstwhile "Prince of Darkness"
now makes some excellent products, many
of them for BMW.) Rear brakes are standard M3.
Due to room constraints the conventional
Vacuum Servo is traded for the
hydraulic booster of the 8 Series. The windshield
washer bottle goes into the trunk for
the same reasons.
This is a car I would love to own in its
touring variation. Unfortunately, Alpina
does not import to the U.S. due to product
liability laws and lack of excess capacity.
Alpina only builds 500 cars a year and has
no intention of expanding.
While the B8 4.6 (it took 18 months of
development time) is the car most of the
Roundel readers would probably love to
own, Alpina offers a range of other BMWs:
* B3 3.2 in sedan, coupe, touring and
cabrio models with a 3152 cc 6 cylinder 265
hp motor, with a choice of6 speed transmission
or Alpina SWITCH-TRONIC
* B8 4.6 in sedan, coupe, touring and
cabrio models with a 4.6 liter V8 motor
* B12 5.7 in sedan, sedan Land coupe
models (based on BMW's 750/850 series)
with a 5646 cc 387 hp V12 motor for the
sedan and 416 hp for the coupe.
These vehicles can be purchased through
25 authorized BMW dealers in Germany
and many other countries. One
of Alpina's main markets is England.
You can order most of BMW's factory
accessories for your Alpina but also some
Alpina extras like digital information on
oil temperature (including the differential)
and pressure. For DM 17,600 you can have
absolutely everything covered in leather.
The cheapest Alpina in Germany, the B3 3.2,
costs almost DM 80,000 (incl. tax) and
can go to over DM 300,000 for a full Cleveland
Bl2 5.7 coupe.
Buy an Alpina and you will have a car
that has been touched, modified and engineered
by many talented people so that a
few lucky owners can have a unique
driving experience that can be compared
to enjoying the finest vintages. Speaking
of which the huge warehouses on the factory
grounds do not hold cars and parts as
you might expect, but are filled with the
cream of the crop of the vintners' art. These
wines are sold to Europe's best restaurants.
May I sign up as a delivery driver?
Some cars, some wines, some company!